View From the Capitol - Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler's Newsletter for the Week of March 4-8, 2013
The “Snowquester” that was supposed to hit the D.C. area didn’t materialize; but the “sequester” did. Many federal agencies will be required to implement 7.8 percent cuts across their departments, and the Department of Defense will experience a $43 billion cut taken from the last six months of its budget.
I continue to be very concerned about the impact of these cuts to our national defense and to individuals and families in the Fourth District, specifically. The biggest impact will be felt among civilian employees of the Department of Defense (DOD). According to preliminary plans laid out by the House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee, on which I serve, these workers are expected to be furloughed one day a week starting sometime around the end of April for a period of 22 weeks. I inquired of DOD officials as to how this was going to be implemented. They stated they are in negotiations now and details will be unveiled soon, but the “once-a-week-for-22-weeks-plan” is the most likely scenario.
The furloughs could impact a significant number of families in our area. Preliminary DOD estimates show up to 6,000 Army civilians and 2,000 Air Force civilians could experience this furlough. Being required to stay home one day a week will result in a 20 percent reduction to workers’ take home pay, which translates to less money to buy groceries, put gas in the car, and pay for school expenses for their children. It will mean less money available to be spent elsewhere and could impact the economies of local communities.
Readiness could be compromised, as well, as the Air Force predicts cutting flight training hours significantly and the Army says training for 2014 deployments could be hampered. At the Readiness Subcommittee hearing, officials also stated that considerably fewer hours will be available for individuals to be trained through the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School located at Fort Leonard Wood. Maintenance of facilities and military equipment will be put off, as well. All of this is very concerning.
I have objected to the President’s sequestration scheme from the beginning and voted against it. I have been working to replace the cuts to defense with more common sense cuts elsewhere and helped pass two measures in the House last year to stop the sequester. Unfortunately, the Senate refused to take up the bill and the President hasn’t worked with us to avert these cuts. Lately, he has talked about taking more money from hardworking Americans by raising taxes as a solution, while still cutting defense. This idea is a nonstarter. He already received over $600 billion in new taxes as part of the Fiscal Cliff deal and there were no cuts. We need to reduce our national debt and get to a balanced budget, but not through arbitrary cuts that slash our national defense. The better way would be through smart cuts that get rid of government waste by reforming vital mandatory spending programs and by getting our economy going by getting people back to work.
There is waste that can be cut! We need to quit giving bonuses to the states for turning in their food stamp (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - SNAP) paperwork on time. We need to sell excess federal property that is unused or underutilized. This alone would save up to $15 billion. The EPA gave over $100,000 in grants last year to foreign countries. This needs to stop. The IRS has its own TV studio that costs $4 million each year to run. What a waste of our money!
Where are our priorities as a country? According to the Constitution there are only a few things that the federal government should be doing and ‘providing for the Common Defense’ is one of them. It’s time to realign our government’s spending to reflect our priorities.
This week the House passed a Continuing Resolution which will help somewhat. It funds government through the end of the fiscal year (September 30) at a reduced funding level to move Washington toward living within its means. It also includes the 2013 Defense, Military Construction, and Veterans Appropriation bills which will allow the Defense Department to move around funds to reflect the current priorities of our military. While this doesn’t address the overall funding cuts to our defense, it does allow some flexibility to help deal with sequestration – and military commanders tell us this will help. We will see whether the Senate takes up and passes the measure. I hope it will and hope the President will support these efforts. In the meantime I will continue to look for ways to help lessen the impact of sequestration on our national defense and restore its funding during the upcoming months.
While I believe concerns about cuts to our military are spot on, I believe some of the cuts to other areas of the government are being politicized. The President, this week, cancelled White House tours. This is unnecessary.
I have spoken with citizens of Missouri’s Fourth District who have planned family trips to Washington with tours of the White House on the schedule. Among my constituents impacted by this unnecessary decision is State Representative Mike Kelley who will be visiting Washington on a working vacation during the legislative spring break. Representative Kelley, his family, and a foreign exchange student from Ukraine had hoped to visit the White House during their visit. He told me he is particularly disappointed for the student who looks to America as a beacon of freedom and to the White House as a symbol of that freedom. I will have the opportunity to show her our beautiful U.S. Capitol, but I am saddened that the President’s actions will deny her what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the White House.
We need to end wasteful spending in our government while at the same time prioritizing our national security. We can do both. I will continue to work with other Representatives to develop a budget that balances while getting our priorities right.
Have a good week.